Here’s How Politicians Are Using Facebook’s New Targeted Advertising Tools

Customized advertising on Facebook is helping everyone from small online businesses to presidential candidates target those most receptive, or susceptible, to their products or messages.

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Take Republican-party hopeful Michele Bachmann, for example. Last month, she won the Republican straw poll in Iowa through focused advertising on the Facebook pages of potential supports who lived nearby.

Facebook analyzed the activity of its users in order to find those most likely to share Bachmann’s political beliefs — maybe they identified themselves as Tea Party supports in their profiles or posted messages in favor of tax cuts or against abortion — and then displayed a customized message on their Facebook pages assuring them those same issues were also important to Bachmann. That message directed them to a link where they could arrange a free ride to the polling place.

Bachmann isn’t the only politician utilizing Facebook’s new advertising tools — in fact, Facebook’s Washington office is marketing the advertising tools to politicians. The software allows candidates to target campaign ads to individuals in a way that wasn’t possible just a few months ago. And unlike expensive radio and TV ads, which are broadcast to as many opponents as supporters, these new Facebook ads only appear to a few hundred or even a few dozen people who are likely to find the ads both informative and agreeable, and at a fraction of the cost.

Facebook ads cost 50¢ or less per click, and campaigns know whether their ads are working by counting how many clicks they get, something not available with other forms of advertising. The technology allows campaigns to try out different strategies, different messages targeting different demographics, to find those that are most effective.

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Facebook markets the same advertising tools used by corporations to political campaigns, just with a different pitch. Facebook’s Washington, D.C.-based office is stocked with political pros who speak the language of campaigns and elections. In 2007, Facebook hired Adam Conner, at the time a 23-year-old Democratic staffer on the House Rules Committee, and then in February, hired Katie Harbath, a 30-year-old digital strategist for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in order to “round out” its staff.